Sunday, 26 February 2012

Country Mouse Is Spoiled For Transport Choice In The City

It's been a month since the flit from the Brighton of the North to the Honest Toun and I'm three weeks into my new job at the Scottish Tarlymint (as Toddler pronounces it - she also believes it's a bit like a castle and full of toys - at which point I could make a crack about it being a land of make believe and child-like behaviour but I'm far too professional).

Musselburgh's twice the size of Nairn and Edinburgh's five times the size of Inverness so the scale of things is obviously different. A friend visited from the isles the other week and was genuinely agog at the sheer number of people and houses crammed in to this part of Scotland.

Toddler's coping fine with the extra bustle and in particular loves the buses. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lothian has a mighty fine bus service. There is concern the fares are going up (the operator blames the SNP government for cutting its grant and the SNP government blames Westminster, yawn, yawn) but still for just over a quid you can go any single journey, all the way from East Lothian through the Athens of the North and out to the Pentland hills.

Living in the Highlands for the last fifteen years (and before that the Borders) I've come to expect public transport to be either rubbish or non-existent. Car is king. But where there are serious concentrations of population it makes sense to have brilliant buses and trains and it seems reasonable to expect government to make it as affordable and accessible as possible. It helps those on low incomes and reduces the pollution caused by car journeys. What's not to like?

As for the trains, I can get from Musselburgh into Waverley in seven minutes. Brilliant. I recently had work in Glasgow so took my folding bike expecting space for cycles to be rubbish, non-existent or fully taken. As it happens there was plenty of room. Mind you I was travelling after 9am and before 5pm.

I've cycled in Scotland's six cities plenty of times and I have to say Glasgow's the worst. It's really weird that such a cosmopolitan metropolis that pitches itself as 'Scotland with style' is so unfriendly to get around on a bike. Weirdly, Dundee with its dual carriageways is a dream to negotiate. And I love the higgeldy piggeldy nature of Edinburgh's old town although prefer to stick to safe cycle routes away from busy streets.

Buzzing around Glasgow and Edinburgh recently one thing has struck me (no, not an eejit in a BMW who hogs the road) and that is the fact that cycles are expected to share lanes with buses. Cycles. Buses. Not ideal bedfellows. Most mornings I get the bus into Edinburgh and there are always cyclists pedalling furiously like panicked pheasants on a rural road in front of the Number 44 causing it to stutter along at 10mph. Then the bus pulls into a stop and cyclists behind overtake only to be caught up moments later. Hilarious yet terrifying.

One of Toddler's favourite games while on a bus is Dearg! And Buidhe! She picked up Gaelic at the toddler group in Nairn so we continue to use certain words. These two words mean red and yellow and we shout them when we see a car in these colours. And usually cause baffled looks from fellow passengers.

Toddler's counting is coming along nicely. The other day she totted up the cars coming down the street. 1, 2, 3, and so on until she reached 10. There was a pause despite an oncoming vehicle and guessing she was having difficulty remembering the next number Wife-features helpfully suggested 'eleven?'

'No, mummy - that one's a van.'

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